“I do not write these things to make you ashamed,
but to admonish you as my beloved children.
For though you have countless guides in Christ,
you do not have many fathers.
For I became your father in Christ Jesus
through the gospel. I urge you, then,
be imitators of me.”
I Corinthians 4:14-16
Several men and women I know lost their spiritual dad over a week ago.
I don’t mean their favorite Bible teacher or conference speaker (though Pete was a good teacher and frequently spoke at conferences). I mean a man who was a real spiritual father to many. And that (being a spiritual dad) is a rare thing in the body of Christ today. As the apostle Paul himself acknowledged, though there are many teachers and guides throughout the body of Christ today, there are not many fathers. Paul reminded the Corinthian church that they owe their spiritual existence to the apostle. After all, it was the apostle who first brought the gospel to them, thus giving birth to them.
That is not the sense though in which I speak of Pete being a spiritual father to many. I mean it in the adoptive sense—the fact that Pete related to many leaders over the years, walking with them and shaping them in Christ. I’m sure that there are some today who would say they came to faith in Christ through hearing the gospel first from Pete, but they are rare. Most of those who called Pete their spiritual dad were adopted into that relationship. Pete understood the power of relationship and as the Father brought him into relationship with many leaders, he walked with them, pouring himself into them. It was the old, proven way the apostle speaks of in the Colossians letter:
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-30).
That’s the clearest way to describe what Pete did in his life: he sought to bring to maturity those God brought him into relationship with by means of an inward power working powerfully in him and through him. There are many lessons we could draw from Pete’s life, but here I simply point to three that Pete shared in common with all other spiritual fathers. They are drawn from Colossians 1:28-30.
First, this passage presents Christ as the centerpiece of God’s plan. Paul’s ministry was a Christ-centered ministry; he speaks of proclaiming Him so as to “present everyone mature in Christ.” And that’s what made Pete’s life and ministry so simple yet profound: It was centered in his faith in Jesus and his passion that everyone would “know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). It was his burning love for Jesus that gave a spiritual symmetry to his life. Jesus was not just a byword but a living Person whom Pete first fell in love with in his forties, and that love grew over the decades, consuming his life.
Such a love can’t be faked; it must be genuine, and it was that which served as the source of Pete’s effectiveness as a leader.
Secondly, Paul also speaks in this passage of his overwhelming passion to bring to maturity those God brought him into relationship with. This was the passion of Pete as well. That meant he took seriously the relationships God had brought him into, stewarding each one so that he might present them perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:29). To accomplish that God gave him a wide, open heart to all types of people—those that differed with him theologically as well as were different racially were invited to his table. The greatness of the man was on open display whenever you were invited to dine with him and Jane at their family table.
There was nothing petty or small about Pete Beck. Even when he had occasion to rebuke you (of which I was the recipient of from time to time) you knew it was drawn from a heart of love and for your welfare.
Finally, Paul speaks in this passage from Colossians of “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” To accomplish this ministry Paul speaks of a divine energy that was powerfully at work in him and through him to others. Pete spoke often of an awareness of divine power at work in him which alone accounts for his faithfulness to pour into so many leaders. I recall how each of his emails ended with his familiar quip: “if we knew what to do why would we need the Holy Spirit?”
Of the many joys of working with Pete Beck for almost forty years, one of the most precious was being asked to work with him in writing his first book, Not Many Fathers. It was Pete’s book from first to last; all I did was to help it be clearer grammatically. Working with him on that project, I had a front row seat to see how seriously he took his ministry of fathering men and women in the kingdom.
Since Pete is gone, I recommend you get a copy and read it to see what makes a spiritual father tick. Even for those who have already read it, perhaps this is a good time to reacquaint yourself with the content. And as we read, let’s ask the Father to raise up a company of sons and daughters who, taking their cue from brother Pete, will once again take seriously the call to be fathers in Christ.